How serendipitous is OD?

At an earlier ODHE gathering we discussed what was meant by Organisational Development based on our understanding and practice and how that translated into individual experience. Examples of workforce planning and restructures were oft quoted, less so partnership approaches to holistic cultural change. Outputs were many and varied and no doubt all entirely relevant to specific universities and their cultures.

However, I’m still left with my musings at the time – how serendipitous is OD in practice?

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Bettina P-

How much does OD activity currently owe to a chance corridor meeting when a colleague shares a concern or issue?
Or a pre-committee informal chat with a couple of managers expressing their laments?
Or catch-up coffee chats when defences are down and off–the-record issues are shared?
Or an exploratory discussion with a manager wanting to tackle team behaviour, communication and/or culture issues?
How open are we to using these serendipitous accidents to use as a springboard for OD activity?
Or do we reflect on ‘normal’ activity and later claim it as OD activity?
And does any of this really matter as long as something happens??!!

And if it does matter, what makes it important to us as burgeoning or practised OD professionals?
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Sally Wilson spent 18 years in L&D in HE before becoming a Fellow of the Staff Development Forum and an Independent Consultant to higher education on organisational, leadership & team development and coaching.

3 thoughts on “How serendipitous is OD?

  1. I think it really, really matters. And what does it mean to OD practitioners? To use a sporting aphorism: “Luck is the art of preparedness when opportunity strikes.” In other words, seek out and be ready when these serendipitous moments appear. Stand in a coffee queue more often, make sure you arrive in time to have the chat with the managers before the meeting (and clear your diary so to do and prepare your mind for it). We work with human processes, we work in the (organisational) spaces and we don’t have much (formal) power. Serendipitous moments strike me as entirely appropriate spaces for us to work.
    Do I do this stuff? Not as much as I should, and not as much as I’m going to in future.

  2. Great post by Sallly and comments by Simon.

    I agree – perhaps what we all need to continue to develop is our capacity for intentional serendipity. While this may appear to be a contradiction in terms I see our jobs as OD professionals as connecting seemingly unrelated dots between individual and organisational levels, to live in the spaces between silos and functions. And we can’t do this alone or even with a group of ‘OD-people’; we need to engage with and collaborate with many throughout and beyond our organisations to influence positive change.

    The professional practice of intentional serendipity will help us be continuously watchful for opportunities to make connections and span boundaries.

    • Some thought-provoking comments from Simon and Cindy, thank you.

      Intentional serendipity is indeed a professional practice. I believe it is wholly legitimate, required and expected of the unique role of the OD practitioner in spanning organisational boundaries. Making time to ‘walk the job’ outside the confines of the immediate office and department, even for just 15 minutes a day, can increase awareness, alter perspectives and reap rich opportunities to act positively and move things forward.

      Why not build it consciously and consistently into our day for the next month, then reflect on what we’ve gained?

      What impact has it had on our
      – knowledge, however small the jigsaw piece
      – insight and foresight
      – understanding (people, systems, processes)
      – building better work relationships and networks
      – openness, preparedness and capacity
      – influence and persuasion
      – creativity and innovation
      – internal entrepreneurship
      – ability to positively move things forward
      – and other relevant benefits.

      And can a price be put on this value? I’ll hazard it’s easier to cost lost opportunity!

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